MESOP REPORT: Germany lobbying to suspend Turkey’s EU talks over protests

15 June 2013 / TODAYSZAMAN.COM, İSTANBUL – Germany is looking for ways to suspend Turkey’s EU membership talks after the government’s mishandling of protests linked to the demolition of a park in central İstanbul to build a replica of Ottoman-era barracks.

Turkey’s membership talks are scheduled to resume on June 26 after a three-year hiatus and are largely seen as a revival of the long-stalled negotiations between the two sides. But Germany is now seeking to delay the talks with Turkey, the Financial Times reported on Friday. One day after his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government raised the prospect of holding a plebiscite in a bid to resolve the two-week-long Gezi Park conundrum, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued his last call to the protesters on Thursday, saying that they would be evicted from the park within 24 hours.

Erdoğan asked for the park to be cleared of “troublemakers” within 24 hours. “We will clear the square,” he had declared.

“Our patience is at an end. I am making my warning for the last time. I call on mothers and fathers. Please take your children in hand and bring them out. … We cannot wait any longer because Gezi Park does not belong to occupying forces but to the people,” Erdoğan told an AK Party meeting in Ankara.

The Financial Times report quoted a senior German diplomat as saying that this is not exactly a good moment to be giving Erdoğan any reward, referring to the restart of the negotiations. Germany has long been among the countries who opposed Turkey’s full EU membership but believed that continued talks would deepen relations between the EU and Turkey and push Ankara to make more reforms. Officials expect to open at least one negotiation chapter during the June 26 meeting. Berlin, together with other EU states and the US, has called on Erdoğan to respect the protesters’ freedom of expression.

The report stated that several German diplomats said that Berlin was lobbying to persuade other EU states to halt the talks. One diplomat said that “consensus was forming” to delay the talks, focusing on regional policy, while another said that France, Italy, Sweden and Finland were also leaning towards halting the negotiations.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the FT report based on misinformation over Sweden’s position on Turkey accession talks. Bildt denied the FT report over Turkey accession talks via his Twitter account on Friday.

The talks on June 26 were to be the first opening of a negotiating chapter in three years — and have hence assumed considerable symbolic importance. But they can be vetoed by any EU member state.

Some EU diplomats said Berlin was trying to depict the delay as technical formality to avoid angering Erdoğan.  “I can’t understand why the Germans are behaving like this. … It is going to be really hard to start again if this happens,” said one Turkish official, according to the report. “We won’t be knocking on their door for a long time after this. … Things are hardening on both sides.”